Inauguration inspires action

Courtesy of Julie Ceballos
Foothill College music and theatre participants light a “ghost light” to celebrate inclusion.

Some Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents flew to Washington, D.C., last week to watch a new president descend the steps of the U.S. Capitol, while others joined women’s marches in San Francisco and San Jose. Closer to home, two groups assembled to share local initiatives inspired by the inauguration.

In Los Altos Hills, Vara Ramakrishnan hosted a kid-oriented fundraiser for scores of local families who want to participate in this week’s history-making political events but aren’t marching in San Francisco or San Jose.

“My daughter and I thought maybe we should go march on Washington, but I would have to leave my son, who is 10 years old and also wanting to participate,” Ramakrishnan said. “We decided to host something here for families who wanted to look back and say, ‘What did we do?’”

They had already raised more than $10,000 by late last week as part of their “Families for Justice” fundraising event, which invited families to gather, design signs and “march” down their long backyard and raise funds for four local and national nonprofit organizations.

Los Altos resident Amy Pearl, board chairwoman of Emerge America, spoke at the event about her organization’s work to support women’s representation in all levels of U.S. government. The partisan nonprofit trains aspiring women leaders to run for elected office as part of the Democratic Party.

Event participants also donated to ThinkProgress, a nonprofit progressive news site; Running Start, which promotes young women in political leadership; and BrainVyne Foundation, which provides scholarships for local youth to attend BrainVyne science and technology camps.

Negative encounter drives hunger for action

Ramakrishnan said she and her daughter hadn’t been particularly politically involved prior to this election cycle, but their feelings changed after they were unwillingly pulled into the spotlight in November.

On a flight to Mexico immediately following the election, the pair were seated next to a man who started a political speech about what to expect in Trump’s America. The situation deteriorated into tears for Ramakrishnan and her daughter – press coverage at the time inaccurately described the racially tinged incident as a tirade targeted at an African-American woman, while the family is in fact Americans of Indian origin. The captain of the flight came on the intercom to give a speech to passengers about having the common decency to respect each other’s political differences, at a minimum for the duration of a flight.

The lingering sting of that experience, covered by news outlets around the country, has sparked a political vigor in the Ramakrishnan family.

“He tried to bully me,” Ramakrishnan said of the loud passenger, who she said belittled her while others watched in uncomfortable silence. “Afterwards, when I read about the incident in grocery stores and various other places, I would think, if I had been better prepared I would have said, ‘People, stop looking away – look at what is going on.’ Nobody wants to speak up, because they don’t want to be part of it.”

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who represents Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, met with Ramakrishnan and subsequently wrote a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation about the need to ensure that airline passengers are not subjected to harassment and intimidation – a gesture the Los Altos Hills resident found supportive, if unlikely to change much anytime soon. The fundraising lunch she is hosting aims to offer a concrete opportunity for local residents to contribute to democracy-strengthening causes right now.

“There are supporters of every administration in our community, and we are not trying to be actively against Trump – we are just actively against hate, which is what we experienced on our flight,” Ramakrishnan said.

Local actors light a ‘safe space’

A similar motive gathered thespians at Foothill College in Los Altos Hill last week, when approximately 40 members of the theatre arts and music departments gathered after sunset Thursday evening outside Smithwick Theatre to kindle a “ghost light” at the same time as theater troupes around the country. Palo Alto Players and TheatreWorks also participated in the Ghostlight Project, which references the single, spare bulb left on in a darkened theater at the end of the day.

“The last person out of the theaters leaves the light on stage to make the theater a safe space for anyone who might enter,” said Foothill music teacher Milissa Carey. “It’s about the idea of creating a safe space. … It will be a way for anyone, without political affiliation, who is feeling that sense of trouble or wants to support others who are, to show up and share a common moment where we symbolically light our lights together.”

At Foothill College, participants lit their lights, read some passages from thinkers ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. to St. Francis of Assisi, and then brought out acoustic guitars to usher in the night with song.

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